Monday, March 28, 2005

Russians having trouble adjusting to the byproducts of freedom

Russians fined in blasphemy case: - A Moscow court has found the organisers of an art exhibition guilty of inciting religious hatred and fined them 100,000 roubles (£2,000; $3,600) each.

The January 2003 exhibition called "Caution! Religion" was staged by the Sakharov Museum, named after the Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov.

The Russian Orthodox Church had condemned director Yuri Samodurov and his colleague Lyudmila Vasilovskaya.

The court ruling said the show was "openly insulting and blasphemous".

It featured an icon with a hole instead of a head, where visitors could show their faces.

There was also a Coca-Cola logo with Jesus' face shown next to it, with the words: "This is my blood".

There was also a sculpture of a church made from vodka bottles.

Vandals defaced the exhibits just days after they went on display, but charges against them were later dropped.

Mr Samodurov, a leading human rights activist, insisted he had no intention of insulting believers. He said the case against him was absurd and a direct challenge to freedom of conscience and expression.

His supporters said it also highlighted the growing power and influence of the Orthodox Church in Russia - constitutionally a secular state.

A third defendant, an artist who contributed to the show, was acquitted.

Lawyers for the other defendants vowed to appeal against the verdicts - if necessary to the European Court of Human Rights.

Assailants Attack Angolan, Bangladeshi, Chinese Students in Three Separate Incidents in Russia: - Assailants attacked Angolan, Bangladeshi and Chinese students in three separate weekend incidents, officials said Monday, the latest in a series of racially motivated assaults that underscore growing violent racism in Russia.

The Angolan student was attacked by several people in a subway station Sunday night. The 26-year-old was hospitalized with head injuries and knife wounds, said Desire Deffo, deputy head of the African Union in St. Petersburg. The student was in satisfactory condition Monday.

A fifth-year medical student from Bangladesh was attacked Saturday by a group of people near a subway station in the north of the city. Mozibul Haque, the head of the Bangladeshi community in St. Petersburg, said the student was hospitalized with head wounds.

Also Saturday, a group of unknown people beat a Chinese student from the St. Petersburg Music Conservatory on the city's main avenue, Nevsky Prospect. The student was also hospitalized with head wounds, Interfax said.

No one answered the phones at the police department Monday.

Deffo said racial attacks had become more frequent in St. Petersburg in recent months, leaving foreigners afraid to walk the streets. He blamed inaction by law enforcement agencies.

"Many attackers remain without punishment and feel they can keep doing it," he said.

Racist attacks on Jews, dark-skinned foreigners and people from Russia's North Caucasus have become increasingly frequent in Russia's big cities, reflecting a rise in xenophobia and racism.